Tag Archives: Ambler

Three congregations credential new leaders on Pentecost

by Sheldon C. Good

Many Christian congregations commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, and three Franconia Conference congregations in particular acknowledged the Spirit’s movement through the credentialing of leaders for ministry.

On June 8, all occurring in southeastern Pennsylvania, Donna Merow was ordained and Danilo Sanchez and Phil Bergey were licensed for ministry. Their credentialing brings the number of credentialed leaders in the conference to approximately 160 men and women serving in at least seven states and four countries.

Merow was ordained for pastoral ministry at the Ambler congregation, where she has pastored for more than four years. LEAD minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales led Merow’s credentialing. Merow chose to be ordained on Pentecost Sunday after discovering she was confirmed in the United Methodist church on Pentecost 40 years prior.

Donna Merow's ordination
LEADership Minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales and members of the congregation pray at the ordination of Donna Merow (seated center), pastor of Ambler Mennonite Church. Photo by Andrew Huth.

“The 40-year journey from one public confession of faith to another,” Merow said, “has been a significant one for me — including marriage and becoming a mother and grandmother, completing college and graduate work, worshipping in multiple traditions other than the one in which I grew up, and facing the challenges of breast cancer and kidney disease.”

Merow was only 12 when the possibility of religious vocation was first suggested to her. Between now and then, she “worked at a church camp, dropped out of college, cared for blind students, got married, and raised two daughters.” She has also been an active participant in churches from several denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Mennonite.

She described her credentialing ceremony as “an outward acknowledgement of an inward change in identity as I became a pastor in the process of practicing pastoral care.”

Sanchez was licensed for youth ministry among multiple Anabaptist congregations in and around Allentown. LEAD minister Steve Kriss led the credentialing. Sanchez is primarily working with Whitehall and Ripple, both Franconia congregations, by leading music or teaching children, but is also working alongside Karen Fellowship (independent), Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion (Lancaster Conference), Christ Fellowship (Eastern District Conference), and Vietnamese Gospel (Franconia Conference).

Sanchez said his licensing felt like an important personal and professional step because many people and institutions, including Franconia Conference and Whitehall, “are recognizing my gifts and willing to walk alongside me as a pastor.” Sanchez, grew up in the Boyertown congregation and has interned with both Souderton congregation and Philadelphia Praise Center while a student at Eastern University. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite Seminary last year with a Master of Divinity degree.

Members of Whitehall Mennonite Church pray over Danilo Sanchez
Members of Whitehall Mennonite Church pray over Danilo Sanchez. Photo by Patti Connolly.

“I finally feel like a pastor,” he said. “I am so honored that God has called me to be a leader. I’m thankful for the ways that Whitehall and Ripple will shape me into the leader God has called me to be.”

Bergey was licensed as interim lead pastor of the Blooming Glen congregation, where he has been a member for about 20 years. Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference, led the credentialing. Bergey is former conference executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference.

In the wake of Firman Gingerich’s resignation as Blooming Glen’s lead pastor, the congregation’s board invited Bergey to assume a part-time interim lead pastorate. The congregation is searching for a long-term pastor.

Phil Bergey
Phil Bergey, interim lead pastor of Blooming Glen.

Bergey preached the morning of his licensing, focusing on the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12. He framed the commencement of his pastoral leadership and the pastoral search processes not as the beginning of a journey but the continuation of a journey. That journey, he said, includes the history of the Blooming Glen congregation, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Christian church, going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.

Bergey said: “Blooming Glen, like other congregations, has been through pastoral transitions before; it is simply part of a congregation’s life together. And pastoral transitions are especially true for a congregation that is approaching 300 years of age.”

Ministerial Update (April 2014)

Hadi Sunarto
Hadi Sunarto was licensed as a deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center in March.

Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation, provided this update from the March & April meetings of the Credentials and Ministerial Committees:

Hadi Sunarto (East Rutherford, NJ) was approved for a license for specific the ministry of deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center.

Krista Showalter Ehst (Bally, PA) was approved with a license toward ordination to serve as pastor at Alpha (NJ) Mennonite Church.

Bill Martin was approved with a license toward ordination and to serve as associate pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church.

Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation) was approved to serve as Allentown area youth minister with a license toward ordination.

Donna Merow was approved for ordination and continues to serve as pastor at Ambler (Pa) Mennonite Church.

Several new members have been added to the Ministerial and Credentials committees.

Mike Clemmer (Towamencin) and Marlene Frankenfield (Salford) have been named to the Ministerial Committee.   Heidi Hochstetler (Bally) resigned her position from the committee earlier this year.   Continuing Ministerial Committtee members include:  Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East), Carolyn Egli (Whitehall), Janet Panning (Plains), Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), Jim Williams (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life).

Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise) and Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life) have been named to three year terms on the credentials committee.    Continuing committee members include:  Rose Bender (Whitehall), Verle Brubaker (Swamp) and Mike Clemmer (Towamencin).

Steve Kriss began serving as Conference staff liaison for both committees since the retirement of Noah Kolb late in 2013.

From there to here: a story of community

Ambler_Stationby Jenny Duskey, Ambler congregation

I came back from Mennonite Church USA Convention in July feeling challenged and uncomfortable, the kind of feeling that means I need to do something.  In Phoenix, I’d prayed about how to respond to a drone center coming to our area.   I went to the next protest.  Still, I remained uncomfortable.

Then I experienced what turned out to be a blessing, though it didn’t seem so at first.  My car was damaged in a parking lot, and the body shop needed it for a few days.  My husband and I, both retired, volunteer regularly at different places, all too far to reach on foot.  In the Philadelphia area, senior citizens ride trains for eighty-five cents and buses free.  I could get where I needed to go without renting a car.

My habit had been to drive anywhere too far to walk, using public transportation only when I couldn’t drive.  What an irrational routine: a two-mile exercise walk, a quick stop at home, and a drive to my destination, spewing pollutants into the atmosphere.  No wonder I’d felt uncomfortable!  When my car returned, I found I couldn’t go back to my old ways.  The Holy Spirit has turned my thinking upside down; I now use public transportation whenever possible.

When I drove, my car isolated me.  Now, no longer isolated, I relate to others.  I’m reducing pollution only a little, but my sense of community is growing a lot. Here are a few illustrations.

After church, I walked to the train.  Two teen-aged boys, acting silly, as teens do at times, passed me.  At the station I noticed an elderly man with a cane.  I began to check email on my phone.   A voice said, “Hey, old man, give me all your money, or I’ll beat you up!”  I hid my phone away and looked up.  Standing by the old man was one of the teens I’d seen.  I got my phone out again, thinking of calling 911.  Should I try to talk the boy out of it or would that make it worse?

Then the old man spoke, “Where are you going?”  The boy answered.  The old man said, “Man, you’d better get out of here and cross the tracks.”

“I’ve got time,” the boy laughed.  “How’ve you been?”

My heart started beating again; they knew each other.  The boy had been joking; as I returned home, I pondered my reactions and assumptions.

Often there are not enough conductors on the trains to punch all the tickets.  I don’t want to cheat, so I try to find a conductor on the platform to take my ticket.  Once, he refused, saying,   “Use it another day.”  I responded that with his permission, I guessed I would.

Once, the conductor shortage was potentially more serious.  At my stop there was no conductor in sight as I stepped down toward the platform.  A blind woman with a dog started up the same stairs.  I knew I couldn’t move back in time, so I called out, “I’m coming down.”  She backed up.  As I walked past her, I said, “It’s clear now.”

A conductor stood motioning for her to move to the next door.  She kept walking toward the stairs.  “She’s blind,” I told him, “she can’t see you.”  He kept gesturing.  I called to the woman, “The conductor wants you to move to the next door.”  She moved, but not far enough, stopping right in front of the opening between two cars.  She lifted her foot to climb onto the first step, but her foot was over the track, which lay a few feet below.  Knowing it’s not acceptable to touch a blind person, but afraid she’d fall, I put my hand on her arm.  She turned toward me immediately to tell me loudly to stop.  My emotions were a jumble.  I reacted as I usually do when yelled at, hurting inside, but also felt immensely relieved that she had turned back.  Her dog steered her back to the stairs.  The conductor no longer gestured as she stepped up.  I shed tears of relief as I walked home.

When I was driving most places, I rarely related to anyone on the way.  My car isolated me.  Now, the trains, the stations, and the buses bring me closer to the people who share this place in which I live.  No longer isolated, I see them as the human beings they are, and they see me the same way, picking up my ticket when I’d dropped it, getting up to let me sit down on the bus, and, in one case, asking me if an umbrella on the shelf above me was mine, and when I said it wasn’t, exchanging sympathy for whoever had lost it.

One day, an excited little boy asked his father one question after another about the train, where it went, when it would come, how it stayed on the tracks, what made it move, and so on.  He and his family wore Phillies hats or shirts.  Someone asked him if he was going to the ball game.  He grinned, nodded, and asked if we were going to the game, too.  Soon each of us knew the others’ destinations and we all wished each other a safe journey. I expect I was not the only one to board the train with a warm feeling of commonality and a little extra joy.

Successful Conference, Seminary partnership concludes

Steve Kriss (top right) and Derek Cooper (second row, fourth from the right) have partnered for five years to take seminary students on intercultural learning trips, including this spring’s trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Photo by Dennis Dong.

by John Tyson, Salford congregation

Theological educators believe headfirst immersion into unfamiliar cultural terrain is a requirement for preparing church leaders in the context of the twenty-first century. For students at Biblical Theological Seminary (Hatfield, Pa.), a lifelong commitment to intercultural ministry begins at the second year mark of their LEAD Master of Divinity Program.

To meet the complex and unconventional demands of intercultural education, Biblical Seminary and Franconia Conference have partnered together to create the Intercultural Ministry Experience (IME). For the past five years, Franconia’s director of leadership cultivation, Steve Kriss, and Biblical’s director of the LEAD program, Derek Cooper, have led a total of seventy-five students on journeys far and wide, from Israel/Palestine to Italy to Cambodia and Vietnam.

For Dr. Derek Cooper, the ten-day trips abroad produce formative insights and questions that dwell with students well beyond their time in seminary. “It is my favorite component of the LEAD program, and students receive a very concentrated educational experience,” said Cooper. “Students always come away from the trip changed, challenged, and more culturally aware. It’s completely transformative.”

“We also talk a lot about contextualization, and we learn much about how the local Christian community addresses issues relating to history, culture, politics, and world religions,” Cooper added.

Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation (Telford, Pa.), participated in the 2011 trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Meyer identified practices of learning and listening as the educational core of his experience. “This was not a mission trip where rich, white Americans did a service project and ‘brought Jesus’ to the forgotten corners of the globe,” he said.  “Rather, this was a learning experience where we went as students, not saviors; as listeners, not experts; as those interested in exploring ways in which God was already living and moving and active in the culture, not as those bringing Jesus to a place where, prior to our arrival, God was not present…This approach to cross-cultural study resonated deeply with my own wariness of short-term missions and helped to shape my thinking on how we as people of faith engage with the rest of the world.”

The required IME provided Donna Merow her first opportunity to explore spaces beyond U.S. borders. Now pastor of Ambler (Pa.) congregation, Merow recalled how her trip to Israel/Palestine transformed both her understanding of ancient scripture as well as the present Israeli/Palestinian conflict. “The reality of walking where Jesus did, of visiting his birthplace, the village he called home, the Sea of Galilee, and the site of his death has changed the way I read the Bible,” Merow explained. “Seeing and touching the separation wall, staying in the homes of Palestinian Christians, and visiting one of the multigenerational refugee camps has made me ask hard questions about government policy and church practice.”

For many travelers, encountering weathered, historically nuanced places reveals how tender the balance is between the past and the future. This was one of the major lessons absorbed by KrisAnne Swartley, associate pastor of Doylestown (Pa.) congregation, on her trip to Italy. “I was struck by the history there, and how it is preserved and revered, and how that can be both a strength and a weakness,” Swartley reflected. “The strength is in remembering our story, remembering how the faithful who went before us worked through questions of faithfulness in the midst of change/struggle. The weakness can be that we are so trapped by traditions of the past that we become irrelevant in the present and into the future. I continue to think about this balance, to pray that I remember and learn from the church of the past but also [have courage] to walk into the future bravely, not afraid to let go of what was as the Spirit gives new wisdom.”

While this spring marks the end of the Biblical/Franconia IME partnership, its conclusion is cause for celebration, according to Kriss. “The model proved to be an effective partnership because both the seminary and the Conference benefitted,” he said. The Conference offered resources of intercultural education and global networking, he observed, while the seminary provided students who were positioned to deeply engage.  “The surprising outcome,” Kriss said, “was to build relationships with Anabaptist students on campus which helped Conference congregations to have new connections with potential pastors.   And these new potential pastors had already been shaped somewhat by Anabaptist ways of engaging the world.  It was a fruitful endeavor, not without struggles at times, but one that represents effective and strategic partnering in healthy ways.”

CD graduates are reminded to live greatness

CD grad 2013
Christopher Dock Mennonite High School Class of 2013 members share a laugh together during the school’s 58th Annual Commencement on Saturday June 8,2013. Photo by Mark C Psoras\The Reporter

by Jennifer Connor, jconnor@thereporteronline.com
Reposted by permission from The Reporter

In a commencement ceremony that emphasized the three main pillars of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School’s mission, the school graduated 84 students in the Class of 2013 Saturday night. Christopher Dock “seeks to ignite passion for learning, faith and life,” according to its website and demonstrated so in this year’s ceremony.

Senior Class President Tyler Denlinger launched the ceremony by delivering the welcome address, thanking those who have walked alongside the graduates throughout their schooling journey. Later in the ceremony, Denlinger, who also graduated summa cum laude and received the Paul R. Clemens Bible Award, received the Christopher Dock Award as the male student who demonstrates all-around campus citizenship, leadership and scholarship during high school. Marissa Joy Souder was the female recipient.

Among the 84 graduates were exchange students. Prior to the ceremony, Bogusia Stone who has hosted Dohee Kim, a student from South Korea, for the past three years excitedly anticipated the ceremony, proudly waving her “parent ticket.”

“I even have a mom ticket!” Stone said. Dohee, who received the Charles Clemmer Art award for excellence in the subject of art, will attend the Savannah College of Art and Design in the fall.

Hometown principal of graduating seniors and exchange students Camilo Hurtado and Daniel David Ramirez Zea was even in attendance, visiting all the way from the students’ home country of Columbia.

Midway through the ceremony, engaged students watched an energetic and passionate speech delivered by Andrew Huth, a documentary photographer and youth pastor at Ambler Mennonite Church. Huth was adopted at the age of nine from South Korea and emphasized how the change from having nothing to having everything influenced his life path.

Huth began his speech by turning the podium away from the audience of parents, teachers, family and friends — and instead faced it towards the students on stage.

Andrew Huth at CD grad 2013
Andrew Huth challenged students to live greatness. Photo by Lauren Pupillo

The students gave Huth their full attention as he described the development of his career, focusing on the two biggest criticisms he ever received and how they influenced him to change his focus.

The first criticism came from a local newspaper photography editor shortly after Huth decided he wanted to be a newspaper photographer. When Huth asked the editor to share his biggest critique the editor said the photography showed that Huth was afraid to engage people since many of his photos were taken from a distance or behind.

“I then began to approach my assignments by not taking any photographs until I was sitting, eating and talking with my subjects,” Huth said. “If you want the good stuff, you can’t get that at a distance.”

His second biggest criticism came from the vice president of the Associated Press and Director of Photography in an interview in Manhattan. Huth sat nervously as the vice president viewed his portfolio silently and then prompted him to give his biggest critique.

The vice president said he had many great single images but he wanted to see more and be told a story with the pictures. In that moment, Huth decided he wanted to become a documentary photographer.

His speech, entitled, “Don’t Dream of Greatness,” emphasized that one must live and breathe the greatness they aspire to possess. He encouraged students to look at their causes and those they want to help not as projects but rather as partners.

“Dreaming is such a dangerous thing – you’re so close to the real thing but it’s not quite there,” Huth said. “Everyone thinks of changing the world but never themselves. Don’t dream of greatness but do and become greatness.”

Huth’s message seemed to fit in well with the Class of 2013’s Bible verse that class vice president Elizabeth Curis shared. From Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord your God is with thee.”

Delivering Christ to a waiting world

by Donna Merow, Ambler

live nativity at Towamencin
The live nativity at Towamencin congregation. Photo by Casie L. Allebach.

Christmas. I have long been ambivalent about this holy season.  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE Christmas—the anticipation of Advent, the children’s pageant, singing “Silent Night” by candlelight with guitar accompaniment, the live nativity, the retelling of the familiar story, the making and wrapping of gifts.

But I also dread its coming—the gaudy lawn decorations, inane songs like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” blaring from the radio, the excesses of the celebration.  I lament with Linus its commercialization and long to discover if the Grinch’s Whoville observation is farther reaching and that it can, indeed, come “without packages, boxes, or bags.”

I trace my ambivalence to singing “Will Santy Came to Shanty Town?” for a school program when I was about nine.  The song is a child’s first person wondering if Santa will visit his side of the tracks this time around or if his mother will have to repaint his toys the way she did the year before.  At the time I needed to believe in the magic of Christmas more than anything.  My parents had recently divorced, which necessitated a move, and my world was turned upside down by the addition of a stepfather who drank too much.  But Eddy Arnold’s musical autobiography captured my youthful imagination.  The revelation that Santa apparently didn’t come to all deserving children was an epiphany for me and one that has shaped my Christmas-keeping in the decades since.

The Irish have a beautiful custom of having the youngest child light a candle in the window on Christmas Eve, lest Christ should come in the guise of a stranger.  I count the strangers I have met during this time of year to be among my most treasured gifts.

One year we were able to connect with a woman we read about in The Inquirer.  She lead a group of fearless females who stood on the corner in their neighborhood with their mops and brooms to reclaim it from the drug dealers, and she often provided sanctuary to a dozen or more children in her home.

Then there was the mother of the family we had adopted through the Visiting Nurses Association who selflessly offered a sleeping bag that she had requested to another mother who showed up at the center because she had nothing to give to her little ones.

I generally avoid the mall as much as possible, but one year I was approached there by a stranger as I was enjoying a snack after a fruitful search for flannel sheets for my newly-separated father.  Within a half hour I had learned about her painful spiritual journey through divorce and the sexual abuse of her children.

Liberty Ministries Christmas
Volunteers with Liberty Ministries pack Christmas gifts for inmates.

That same year, my family traveled into Philadelphia for a performance of The Nutcracker.  A young woman struck up a conversation with me (I am an avowed introvert and rarely initiate such encounters) as we waited on the platform at Market East for the R5 to take us home.  Our conversation continued until she got off at the stop before us.  She was a recovering drug addict trying to put her life back together.  Her grandfather was dying in a nursing home in the area, and friends were taking her to visit him.  He had believed in her even when she didn’t believe in herself, she explained.

This year the world was too much with me, and I feared that Christmas might not come, “but it came just the same.”  It came through offering a ride to an elderly woman in front of me in the check-out line at the Dollar Tree store who would surely have struggled walking home with her cane and packages.  It came in attending a nursing home concert in which several members of my congregation performed.  It came shopping with a neighbor for an immigrant family facing its first Christmas without a mother/wife/daughter/sister.  It came helping to prepare nearly 2,000 brown paper packages for the inmates at Montgomery County Correctional Facility and having the privilege of joining others from Liberty Ministries in their distribution to the women who eagerly awaited them and gratefully received them.  It came with a real “baby Jesus” in the pageant this Sunday and our own costumed angels poignantly drawing us in as we mourned the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in a sleepy New England town.

Christmas.  The celebration of God with us invites us all to be open to possibility and opportunities—to “deliver” Christ to a waiting world, to serve Christ among the least of these, and to be surprised anew by the ways Christ comes to us in the midst of our isolation and loneliness, our longing for things to be different, our busyness and self-absorption, and our grief and pain, our hopes and fears.

Introducing Ambler Mennonite Church

Ambler’s Kids Art Club paints a 44-foot mural.

Ambler began in a garage in 1952 as an outreach of Franconia Conference. This mission was nearly abandoned when those who came to serve the children of the area found them too unruly. A decade later, a meetinghouse was built on donated land at the corner of Spring Garden and Mount Pleasant Avenues, within walking distance of the train to Philadelphia. In the last century Ambler grew as a company town for Keasbey and Mattison, an asbestos manufacturer. Despite this environmental legacy, Ambler is in the midst of revitalization with numerous restaurants, theaters, and shops opening on its main street. It’s first female mayor, a member of our congregation, was elected last fall.

Ours is an average-sized congregation with leadership provided by a full-time pastor, a pair of elders, and a ministry team composed of a chair, five commission chairs, our Conference delegate, and the pastor that meets monthly. Our current pastor is the second woman in that position and was called from within.

Ambler is a diverse congregation—racially, ethnically, generationally, geographically, theologically, and otherwise. Our worship style is eclectic, informal, and participatory. We are a people who enjoy each other’s company and look for opportunities to connect outside the walls. Who we are is reflected in our mission statement —”a diverse community of believers following Jesus in building relationships by serving those among and around us with love and offering the good news of peace, hope, and healing.”

We continue to be a congregation with a focus on young people. This has included Vacation Bible School and a Kids Can Club, an art club that ran for several summers, hosting rock concerts featuring local high school bands, and sharing our space with the Ambler area Boys and Girls Club. Some of us regularly participate in prison ministry, gun shop and drone protests, and MDS work; others keep the situation in the Holy Land before us. We support the local food cupboard and Interfaith Housing and join with another congregation in May to shelter homeless families. We provide meeting space for a group trying to bring a food co-op to town. In recent years, we have become well known for our Pennsylvania Dutch dinners in the spring and a community flea market in the fall. Shoo-fly pies figure prominently in both.


Quiet rebellion against the status quo

Donna Merow

(To Mennonite Blog #3)

by Donna Merow, Ambler

In a sermon titled Transformed Nonconformist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority” (Strength to Love, 27).

To “Mennonite” is to be creatively maladjusted to a society that promotes materialism, nationalism, militarism, and violence.

I was introduced to the Mennonite/Anabaptist perspective at Providence and Methacton more than thirty years ago.  This was the era of Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Doris Jantzen Longacre’s Living More with Less.   The lifestyle of simplicity and service such books advocated captured my imagination in a big way.  My sister describes me to her friends as “almost Amish,” and, in some ways, I suppose I am.  We decided to raise our children without Santa Claus or television.  A clothesline replaced the dryer and kept us connected in some small way with the rhythms of the natural world.  We built a little house in the woods and lived on one income so I could be a full-time stay-at-home mom until my daughters were in high school.

Such non-conformity to the standards of culture is only possible if one takes Jesus seriously, not only on Sunday morning but in every encounter and experience throughout the week.  This was something I saw modeled in the first “salt of the earth” Mennonites I met.  Doing so means thoughtfully considering what following Jesus looks like in decisions big and small—the purchases one makes, the words one  speaks, the actions one  takes, how one spends his/her time.  Should I spend a little more for organic produce?  Do I really need that new dress?  Can I skip that trip and take a walk instead?  How do I speak the truth in love in this delicate situation?  Will doing this honor/model Christ?

To “Mennonite” also means taking community seriously.  I was rebaptized and became a member of the Mennonite Church on my first wedding anniversary.  One of the most memorable questions posed to me as part of this public confession was, “Are you willing to give and receive counsel in the congregation?”  The mutual accountability and responsibility inherent in the question continues to remind me that we are in this relationship together.  Everyone, I think, needs to have someone in his/her life who loves him/her enough to risk speaking the truth, however painful it may be.  The vulnerability this demands of both giver and receiver is powerfully present each Holy Week in the simple act of kneeling before each other to wash feet.  But the love symbolized in this annual ritual is evident throughout the year as we celebrate life’s milestones, care for children, prepare meals, clean houses, move possessions, offer advice, or listen with a sympathetic ear.

This spring I did a six-week class on memoir writing at the Mennonite Heritage Center.  Our last assignment included considering a possible title for our would-be memoir based on the writing we had done during the class.  I called mine “Closet Rebel,” and the Mennonites are largely to blame.  I am grateful to those who “Mennonite” at Ambler and Methacton for giving me the space and encouragement I needed for my quiet rebellion against the status quo.  They have accepted me wholeheartedly, creatively maladjusted as I am.

Next week, Noah Kolb, a forty-year minister in Mennonite congregations, will wrestle with his splintered heritage of faith and practice.  How do you “Mennonite”?  Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.

Who am I?  (To Mennonite Blog #1)
Serving Christ with our heads and hands (To Mennonite Blog #2)
Quiet rebellion against the status quo (To Mennonite Blog #3)
Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)
Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)
Body, mind, heart … and feet (To Mennonite Blog #6)
We have much more to offer (To Mennonite Blog #7)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)

Communing with each other and the world

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Every year, followers of Jesus around the world join together in remembering his death and resurrection through the act of communion. World Communion Sunday is a celebration marking that through his death, Jesus broke down the wall of hostility between people groups and that through his resurrection, Christ formed a new family of disciples world-wide.

Swamp’s children walk around the globe
Swamp’s children encircle and walk around the globe singing “I am the Church” on World Communion Sunday. Photo by Abby Mason.

Whether wearing clothes from countries around the world, as they did at Plains in Hatfield, Pa., or sharing a spaghetti dinner with the church down the street, as they did at Ripple in Allentown, Pa., Franconia Conference congregations spent October 2nd remembering this holy communion with the world-wide church.

“This remains one of my favorite services of the year,” said Sharon Ambrose, a member of Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.). “I find it so meaningful to celebrate with Christians around the world.” In addition to sharing communion bread from other countries and reading Scripture in multiple languages, Swamp’s service focused on expanding circles of concern from the congregation to the world, both locally and globally.

Church elders pray behind the communion table
Church elders pray behind the communion table at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. Photo by Emily Ralph.

At Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Pastor Marta Castillo also encouraged her congregation to evaluate how their actions affected believers around the world. “On World Communion Sunday,” she said, “we need to think about how we commune with the Body of Christ that is hungry . . . with the Body of Christ that is persecuted. . . with the Body of Christ that are immigrants.”

Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church celebrated with the theme of hospitality from Acts 2, which describes how the early church worshiped and ate together, sharing their possessions. The congregation used a braided bread of different colors to remind them that people from many nations were celebrating the Lord’s Supper with them. As members of the congregation approached the communion tables, they were joined on the big screen by photos of people celebrating communion around the world.

Souderton--world communion bread
Souderton used a braided bread to remind them that people from many nations were celebrating the Lord’s Supper with them. Photo by Alyssa Kerns.

Ambler celebrated more than World Communion Sunday—the congregation also hosted a regional CROP walk to end hunger that afternoon. Ambler’s preschoolers mixed and bagged trail mix for those who would be “praying on their feet” and, with issues of global hunger on their minds, the congregation worshiped around tables. On each table was a cut-out of the earth with facts and quotes about the condition of the world printed on it, said Pastor Donna Merow. “These became part of our silent confession as we prepared for Communion,” she reflected. “We served one another [around the tables] and then enjoyed an international meal together before heading out to walk to raise funds for global relief efforts.”

On World Communion Sunday and throughout the rest of the year, we are being formed as Jesus-followers, joining God’s world-wide mission to invite all people to participate in God’s kingdom. “Marking this day gives us an invitation to remember our sisters and brothers in places far from us,” said Samantha Lioi, associate pastor at Whitehall Mennonite. “Hearing scripture in three languages and being asked to choose from a variety of breads reminds us we are sojourners as Jesus was, not quite at home but creating welcome places wherever we pitch our tents.”

Conference pastors focus on intergenerational leadership

By Benjamin Sutter, benjamins5@goshen.edu

Harleysville, PA—Sheldon Good and Steve Kriss know what it means to work as an intergenerational leadership team—Good worked as an intern with Franconia Conference for four years under Kriss, director of communication and leadership cultivation. The two men brought their own story of leading from separate generations to this month’s pastors’ breakfast.

More than forty conference pastors and church leaders gathered Thursday morning at the Mennonite Conference Center to discuss intergenerational leadership. Kriss and Good, now assistant editor of the Mennonite Weekly Review, outlined some differences between the leadership styles of Generation X (age 30-45) and Millennial (age 18-29) leaders.

“[Millennials] don’t just use gadgets and Google, we fuse our lives into them,” said Good. He described Millennials as a generation marked by Google, while Kriss reflected on how the PBS show Sesame Street encouraged Generation Xers to embrace diversity.

Kriss remarked at the increasing demographic diversity of leaders in the conference. He noted the presence of women, Asians, and those in their 30s, commenting that it was not difficult to find a panel of congregational leaders who already work with intergenerational leadership teams.

Good and Kriss praised the diversity, but hope that shared intergenerational leadership will continue to develop in more churches. Kriss noted that the conference is credentialing Gen X leaders much later in life than previous generations; both men cautioned that this sets up potential for leadership clash between generations.

“Millennials want to lead now,” said Good. “If they’re told they’re going to lead next, they’ll go somewhere else where they can lead now.”

During the second half of the breakfast, a panel of intergenerational leaders from the conference shared challenges and hopes. This panel included pastors from Philadelphia Praise Center, Ambler Mennonite, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.

“We tend to congregate around people who mimic us and seem like us,” shared Andrew Huth, outreach pastor for Ambler. Intergenerational leadership can help bring new and different people into churches, he said.

“Church is a place where we come to discuss and wrestle [with life],” Huth said. “[Intergenerational church] allows for a broader range of people to participate … When we expand a discussion in the church, that can only be a good thing.”


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